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West Point board OKs budget


Jason Browne



WEST POINT -- West Point''s Board of Selectmen waited until the last day to vote on the city''s 2011 budget, but Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman says it was necessary. 


"We just wanted to make sure everything was good. There were a couple of changes we wanted to put in there and double check everything," Pittman said. 


The board met Tuesday to discuss a proposed budget which was initially presented June 7. The deadline to adopt a budget and avoid a shut-down of city services was midnight Wednesday, but the board voted 3-2 to adjourn and reconvene Wednesday evening.  


Ward 1 Selectman Rod Bobo and Ward 4 Selectman Keith McBrayer voted to accept the original budget proposal while Pittman, Ward 2 Selectman Homer Cannon and Ward 3 Selectman Charles Collins voted to adjourn. 


A city official present at Tuesday''s meeting, at which selectmen bucked Mayor Scott Ross'' pleas to adopt a budget, described the exchange as "heated." Ross attended a meeting in Washington D.C. Wednesday and was unable to attend the meeting, leaving McBrayer, who functions as vice mayor, to fill in for Ross. 


Following Tuesday''s meeting, Ross sent an e-mail to all city employees stating: "...unless the board votes before midnight tomorrow (June 30, 2010) to adopt the budget, all non-emergency personnel are directed not to report to duty on July 1, 2010. All non-emergency offices, including city hall, will be closed due to lack of a budget. Unless you are notified by either Mayor Pro-Tempore Keith McBrayer or City Administrator Randy Jones before midnight tomorrow, do not report to work on July 1 unless you wish to do so without pay." 


Pittman dismissed the letter as political posturing. 


"If the board calls a meeting without the mayor he has a problem with that," he said, adding Wednesday''s meeting was much easier without Ross'' presence. 


With McBrayer presiding and the remaining four selectmen voting, the meeting moved quickly, with the board voting unanimously on four of five budgets. 


The general budget clocked in at $6.7 million in total expenses with just under $100,000 in surplus revenue. The budget adopted Wednesday differed from the budget presented Tuesday by $34,586, which went to the West Point Police Department to pay for raises. 


After former police chief Steve Bingham was fired last year, Bobby Lane was promoted to interim chief, Avery Cook was promoted to assistant chief, Mike Burgess was promoted to captain and Yalunka Shields was promoted to office manager, though none have received a pay raise. As part of the 2011 budget, the board approved five percent raises for each of the promoted employees with another raise possible if the interim positions are made permanent. No timeline was given for deciding on the permanence of the promotions. 


Budgets were also approved for the tourism tax fund, city bond and interest fund, electric department fund and water department fund. 


Pittman cast the lone dissenting vote of the evening against the electric department budget. The total expenditures for 2011 are estimated at $130,000 more than 2010, but the projected surplus for 2011 is $330,000 less than 2010. 


Pittman says the significant drop in surplus funds deserves investigation. He says some of the drop is being attributed to the loss of Americold, a refrigeration company which formerly served the Sara Lee Foods plant but stayed in West Point after the Sara Lee plant closed. 


"We''re going to discuss it at the next board meeting," said Pittman. "We''re probably going to rescind (the electric department budget). We can alter it." 


Ross, City Administrator Randy Jones and Electric Department Superintendent Dwight Prisock were all unavailable for comment.




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